Canada’s friendly giant

Celebrating nature’s own dam builder

Published: Jan 30 2018, 01:01:am

Friday, May 26, 1989
BEAVERS. Documentary examining the life cycle of Castor canadensis. Music by Eldon Rathburn. Written, produced and directed by Stephen Low. Running time: 31 minutes.
    Castor canadensis, more commonly known as the beaver, is synonymous with industry, intensity and natural engineering ability.
    The technology is Canadian.
    OMNIMAX, the dome-screen version of of the super-large IMAX motion picture system, is a domestic innovation.
    The commission, admittedly, was Japanese.
    Seeking a suitable attraction for its Hamaoka Power Plant Visitor’s Centre OMNIMAX Theatre, Japan's Chubu Electric Power Company sought out Skyward producer-director Stephen Low.
    Low, the son of 3D-IMAX developer Colin Low, offered them Beavers. A breathtakingly intimate look at the life and work of our national symbol, his 1988 production is now the opening attraction at Vancouver’s Science World OMNIMAX Theatre.
    Not since the Disney True Life Adventure Beaver Valley won the 1950 Academy Award have we enjoyed such a close-up view of nature's dam builder. Never before has a movie offered filmgoers such a compelling immediate beaver's-eye view of the world.
    Like Disney's wildlife photographers, Alaskans Al and Elma Milotte, Low's team spent a season in the wild recording the amphibious rodents at work and at play.
    Like Disney's writers, Low tends to anthropomorphize his subjects, daring to be cute as often as possible.
    Unlike Disney, he has the advantage of a technology that puts the audience in the centre of the action. Within the OMNIMAX dome, we vicariously share the critter's fright as a bear tears open its lodge, and the weightlessness of a swim in an ice-covered pond
    A true life delight, the 31-minute Beavers is on view daily [Spring 1989) at Science World.
*    *    *    
THE BIG DOME JOINS the Big Screen. When the OMNIMAX Theatre reopened at Science World [in May, 1989], Vancouver became the only city in the world equipped to show IMAX in all of its formats.
    The Big Screen, of course, is in the two-year-old CN IMAX Theatre at Canada Place. It is unique in that it can show both the standard flat and 3D IMAX films.
    The Dome, rising above False Creek's Science World facility, boasts the world's biggest dome screen. Over 27 metres in diametre, it encloses its audience in both sight and sound.
    Both houses are operated by Starboard Theatres Ltd., the B.C. exhibitions subsidiary of the Toronto-based IMAX Systems Corporation.
    With two houses, the company can tailor its programming to specific audiences, says Starboard general manager Lee Newport.  At Canada Place, the emphasis is now on entertainment films, he says.
    Science World, a family-oriented venue, will offer the corporation’s more educational and instructional productions.

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1989. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: Japan’s relationship with nuclear energy is complex, to say the least. The only country to have suffered atomic bombardment — a history that its moviemakers have metaphorically explored in such films as Godzilla 1985 — it is an island nation almost entirely dependent on imported energy. It embraced the peaceful use of nuclear technology in the mid-1960s to provide a significant percentage of its electricity. Though the power generated was a major factor in Japan’s post-war economic recovery, nuclear safety soon became an issue in a country situated within a volcanic zone — the Pacific “Ring of Fire” — and susceptible to frequent earthquakes.
    When Chubu Electric shut down two of its five Hamaoka plant reactors in 2009, it was the result of a popular movement that had followed 2007’s 6.6 magnitude Chūetsu offshore quake. It was the beginning of the end for the then 35-year-old facility, a plant built directly over a known subduction zone. The remaining three reactors were shut down in May 2011, two months after the now infamous Fukushima nuclear plant disaster. And then there’s the matter of that visitor’s centre.
    As you might expect of a people familiar with Mother Nature’s destructive capacity, the Japanese have considerable respect for Her more benign works. And so, when the nuclear complex opened its OMNIMAX theatre on April 28, 1988, the attraction was a celebration of industrious rodents filmed in Alberta’s Kananaskis country, Canadian director Stephen Low’s Beavers.